Friday, January 19, 2007

Can IU win at UConn?

Well, yes. That's why they play the games. But it is a hard place to win. But this is one of the weakest Huskie teams to take the court, maybe the weakest in the last 15 years.

UConn: the good

They're 13-4 overall, with a 11-1 nonconference record.
They were ranked 22nd & 24th in the polls until this week, and are still well ahead of IU in the Also-Receiving Votes count.
Jim Calhoun is one of the most consistent winnners in college basketball today, and he's got a lot of very good young talent, notably frosh guards Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins, as well as shot-blocking freak 7-3 Hasheem Thabeet. Also, he's got a feel-good story with AJ Price returning after blood-clot problems in his brain(!) threatened his career and life.

Looks like a pretty tall order for IU to win at their place. But...

UConn: the bad.
Calhoun pretty much only has freshmen and sophomores who didn't see very much PT last year to work with. In fact, there are no non-walk-on active juniors or seniors on this squad, and no starters return from last season.

Also, by the numbers from mid-majority, UConn plays much faster than IU, but turns the ball over at a higher rate, and is less effective scoring (largely due to IU's better three-point and Free-throw shooting, UConn has a very slight edge in 2ptFG%).

But UConn is surprisingly pretty sound defensively at .801 points-per-opponents'
possession (IU's stellar defense that has critics raving is .892). Interior defense is one key to this, but also really good rebounding is another. 6-6 soph Jeff Adrien is a terror on the boards at 9.4, and may be difficult for Stemler to contain as he is quick and big. We may see Keeling and Mike White get a fair amount of PT.

All-in-all, it should be a fairly good, scrappy game, unlike last year's snooze-fest where Rudy Gay gunned UConn to a big lead, and Marcus Williams and Josh Boone shredded IU's defense for high percentage shots and dunks.

We all are familiar with UConn's run-and-gun style, and transition attack, so we may be sure that Sampson is drilling his guys to deal with UConn's pressure in order to cut down on turnovers that feed UConn's offense.

What do the computers & stat-crunchers say?

Sagarin has UConn ranked at #48 (IU is #20)
Cbs Sportsline rpi has them at #70 (IU is #16)
Blue ribbon Poll; UConn #49 (IU is #8)
Pomeroy RPI puts them at the #68 spot (IU is #21)
But Pomeroy Ratings put them at #16 (IU is #9)

Basically, all the above just reflects the conventional wisdom that UConn had a really soft non-conference schedule that featured a lot of home games against teams from one-NCAA-bid conferences and then hasn't been doing so well in conference play. Although, honestly, they've not been all that bad, dropping their only home loss to Marquette by four, losing at LSU, WVU, and then at Pitt just 54-63.

Indiana losses have all been good, ratings wise, and they've played those teams close. Unsurprisingly, IU has walloped Big Ten squads who came into Assembly still looking for their Identity (Purdue, MSU).

I think IU's got a really good shot to take this game, and will probably get some points back in transition as well, as UConn has guard problems, and may be shuffling their line-up.
Coach Calhoun says "we're missing shots and sometimes not taking great shots. That's really where our problems lie."
If Calhoun is saying that they are not taking great shots, their shot selection must be truly terrible. I didn't know Calhoun even had a "yellow light" for his players.

And defensively, if I were coaching (which thankfully I'm not), I would probably try to pack the lane, maybe even go zone (like WVU did) and dare the Huskies to beat me from outside. The only real threats are Doug Wiggins, Craig Austrie, and Stanley Robinson, none of whom play more than 18 minutes a game. Don't let their guys shoot without pressure, but concede the open jumper rather than the post-up. A zone would force them to pass it more as well, which honestly they aren't very good at. Also, a zone defense might help keep DJ out of ticky-tack foul trouble, and we need him on the floor, hopefully going right at Thabeet and trying to get him in foul trouble like he did with Oden.

Of course, last year, I said to let Rudy Gay shoot, and he hit his first three 3-pt. shots.


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